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Cemex Still Fighting Soledad Canyon Battle

By Mark S. Kuhar

Cemex USA has a positive track record of environmental responsibility. For example, eight of its sites recently received certifications through the Wildlife Habitat Council’s (WHC) Corporate Lands for Learning and Wildlife at Work Programs. Its cement plants have received EPA Energy Star certification and it is proceeding with plans to use solar power at it quarries.

But that isn’t stopping environmental activists from trying to stop its Soledad Canyon aggregates project.

Safe Action for the Environment Inc. has submitted a 3,588-signature petition to key lawmakers in support of legislation to prevent a proposed 56-million-ton sand and gravel mine from being developed in Soledad Canyon.

“We’re very proud of the petition drive and letter writing campaign that we undertook this past year to help save Soledad Canyon from this massive mine,” said SAFE President Andrew Fried. “More than 3,000 people stepped up to express their support of this very important legislation, and we are hopeful that this show of support will work in our favor as Congress considers a similar bill this year.”

The results of the online petition were sent to legislators on a compact disc that included the names of those signing the petition, comments from many who chose to post a comment along with their signature, several dozen letters of support, and supporting documentation providing background information on the issue.

The petition and letter writing campaign were initially conceived in support of Senate Bill S. 759 by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., which would have canceled the CEMEX mining contracts with the Bureau of Land Management and compensated the giant mining company via the sale of federal lands near Victorville that are already on the government’s “disposal list.”

Among those receiving copies of the petition and letter campaign results were Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska (Chair and Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources); Reps. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, and Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks; California State Sens. Fran Pavley and Steve Knight; State Assemblymen Scott Wilk and Steve Fox; and the five Santa Clarita City Council members and associated city staff.

No federal action was taken on S. 759 in 2012, but it is hoped that a similar piece of legislation by Boxer will win favor from Congress in 2013. “The petition and letters can provide momentum for a new bill that could stop the mine from being developed just outside the eastern boundary of the City of Santa Clarita,” said SAFE Board Member Pauline Harte.

Cemex purchased mining contracts from the Bureau of Land Management in 1990 to open the proposed site in Soledad Canyon. Under the previous Boxer bill, if Cemex abandons the Soledad Canyon mine, it will be compensated through the sale of three specific tracts of land north of Victorville and just west of Interstate 15.

The land is owned by the federal government, managed by the BLM and deemed “surplus land” already identified as disposable. The lands identified were carefully selected to prevent any environmentally sensitive lands from being sold as part of this legislation. Lands in line to be developed would be subject to full California Environmental Quality Act review.

The bill would direct the U.S. secretary of the interior to call for the sale of each of the three blocks of land. Proceeds would be deposited into a federal Treasury bank account and set aside to pay the first contract holder, which is Cemex.

If the lands sell for $100 million, for example, Cemex would be paid about $40 million, and the balance of $60 million would be left to the federal government, available to pay for any additional administrative costs.

Cemex wants Boxer’s bill, or a new version of it, passed. The city of Santa Clarita wants the bill passed. Environmentalists want the bill passed. If not, Cemex will move forward with the plan to mine at Soledad Canyon.